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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Rocky Butte, Oregon"
Includes ... Rocky Butte ... Boring Lava Field ... "Wiberg Butte" ... Hill Military Academy ... Rocky Butte Scenic Drive Historic District ... National Register of Historic Places ... Missoula Floods ...
Image, 2003, Rocky Butte, Oregon, and plane, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, and the Columbia River, as seen from the Interstate 205 Bridge. The Columbia River is in the foreground. Image taken July 4, 2003.


Rocky Butte ...
Rocky Butte is a volcanic cone of the Boring Lava Field. Once known as "Wiberg Butte", today it is called "Rocky Butte" after the quarry on the east side. Rock from the quarry was used for the Penitentiary at Walla Walla, the Portland Hotel, and the Old Steel Bridge in Portland, and as a source rock for the culverts of the Union Pacific Railway. The slightly-over-600-feet-high butte is about 1.3 million years old, with two vents at the top.

Boring Lava Field ...
Rocky Butte is one of the over 50 vents and cones of the Boring Lava Field which surrounds Portland, Oregon. The field is 1 to 2 million years old. As Lewis and Clark paddled down the Columbia River on the west side of the Columbia River Gorge, they passed many cones of the Boring Lava Field, including the big shield volcano of Larch Mountain to smaller cone of Rocky Butte.
[More]

Image, 2003, Rocky Butte, Oregon, from Columbia River, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, as seen from Ryan Point, Washington. Image taken June 15, 2003.
Image, 2003, Rocky Butte, Oregon, and Portland International Airport, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, and the Portland International Airport. Image taken July 4, 2003.
Image, 2005, Plane landing at Portland International Airport, click to enlarge
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Columbia River, Portland International Airport, Rocky Butte, and landing plane. View from Wintler Park, Washington. Image taken October 21, 2005.


Rocky Butte in 1940 ...
From the Oregon State Archives "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon":

"... An aircraft beacon and observation platform at the end of the winding road leading from NE. Fremont St. marks the summit of ROCKY BUTTE (612 alt.), one of three cinder cones of volcanic origin on the east side of the city. Its slopes are rough and broken. A grove of quaking aspen, not ordinarily native to the lower altitudes of western Oregon, grows on the northern side. From Rocky Butte there is a view of the city stretching to the hills beyond the Willamette and northwestward to the lowlands of the Columbia River, In the angle between the rivers are North Portland's large meat packing plants and stockyards. Beyond the Columbia are the peaks of St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams. Eastward the Columbia is lost between encroaching foothills of the Cascades, while slightly to the southeast rises Mount Hood ..."


Rocky Butte from Interstate 205 ...

Image, 2003, Rocky Butte, Oregon, from the south, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, as seen from Interstate 205. View from moving car. View from the south. Image taken May 23, 2003.
Image, 2004, Rocky Butte, Oregon, from the south, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, as seen from Interstate 205. View from moving car. View from the south. Image taken July 4, 2004.


Rocky Butte and the Missoula Floods ...
Rocky Butte stood in the path of the Missoula Floods. The rushing flood waters heading down the Willamette Valley eroded the land on the upstream side of the Butte, similar to how a stream erodes the sediment on the upstream side of a rock in its path. Today on the east side of Rocky Butte, Interstate 205 and Interstate 84 follow the broad channels carved by the floods.
[More]

Image, 2006, Rocky Butte, Oregon, and Interstate 205, from the south, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, and Interstate 205. View from the south. Image taken February 19, 2006.


Early Rocky Butte ...
In 1859 Rocky Butte was settled by Charles G. Schramm. In 1879 it was deeded by the United States Government and in 1882 Rocky Butte was acquired by Henry Villard and the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company as a source of rock for culverts for the Union Pacific Railway. With the coming of cement for building material, the Rocky Butte's value declined, and in 1923 the Butte was purchased by Joseph A. Hill, as a future site for the Hill Military Academy which was in need of expansion. In 1931 the Academy moved to the north end of the Rocky Butte.

In 1935 the crest of Rocky Butte was given to Multnomah County by Joseph A. and B.W. Hill. "Joseph Wood Hill Park" was created at the summit and dedicated to the public in memory of their father, Dr. J.W. Hill, an early Oregon educator and for many years head of the Bishop Scott Academy, which eventually became the Hill Military Academy. The park was improved during 1937-39 as a Work Project Authority (WPA) project, with stone walls, roadways, and a wide parking platform. The rock used for abutments and walls came from the Rocky Butte Quarry. In 1938 a road down the other side of the butte was built, which, because of the steep grade, included a turn within the tunnel. This proved so successful that many other tunnels throughout the state were patterned after it.

In 1988 the City of Portland acquired 16.82 acres on top of the butte and designated it as the "Rocky Butte Natural Area". Included in this is the 2.38 acre "Joseph Wood Hill Park".

In 1991 Rocky Butte Road and parts of NE Fremont Street and 92nd Avenue were added to the National Register of Historic Places as the "Rocky Butte Scenic Drive Historic District" (District #91001550), encompassing 215 acres, 10 structures, and 3 objects.


Rocky Butte Stonework ...

Image, 2004, Rocky Butte stonework, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon. Image taken October 14, 2004.
Image, 2004, Rocky Butte stonework, click to enlarge
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Stonework, Rocky Butte, Oregon. Image taken October 14, 2004.
Image, 2004, Rocky Butte stonework, click to enlarge
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Stonework pattern, Rocky Butte, Oregon. Image taken October 14, 2004.
Image, 2004, Stairs, Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Stairs, Rocky Butte, Oregon. Image taken October 14, 2004.


Rocky Butte Quarry ...
Stone from the Rocky Butte Quarry was used up and down the Gorge in the culverts of the Union Pacific Railroad. In the 1930s a 50-ton basalt boulder was used as at the Portland Women's Forum Scenic Viewpoint as a dediction to entrepeneur Samuel Hill, an early promotor of the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Image, 2006, Portland Women's Forum Scenic Viewpoint Sign, click to enlarge
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Sign, Portland Women's Forum Scenic Viewpoint. This large 50-ton basalt boulder was quarried at Rocky Butte. Image taken September 23, 2006.


Views from Rocky Butte ...

The top of Rocky Butte presents a fantastic views of Lewis and Clark's "Columbian Valley", including the Interstate 205 Bridge, Government Island, the Portland International Airport, and the entire Vancouver/Portland reach of the Columbia River.

"... The high Hills which run in a N W. & S E. derection form both banks of the river the Shore boald and rockey, the hills rise gradually & are Covered with a thick groth of pine &c. The valley which is from above the mouth of Quick Sand River to this place may be computed at 60 miles wide on a Derect line, & extends a great Distanc to the right & left rich thickly Covered with tall timber, with a fiew Small Praries bordering on the river and on the Islands; Some fiew Standing Ponds & Several Small Streams of running water on either Side of the river; This is certainly a fertill and a handsom valley, at this time Crouded with Indians. The day proved Cloudy with rain the greater part of it, we are all wet cold and disagreeable- I saw but little appearance of frost in this valley which we call <Wap-pa-too Columbia> from the root or plants growing Spontaniously in this valley only ..." [Clark, November 5, 1805]

The skyline of Portland, Oregon is visible to the west, and Camas and Washougal, Washington are visible to the east. Another Boring Lava cone, Prune Hill, rises along the Washington shore in the northeast.

The peaks of the Cascade Range are nicely visible from Rocky Butte. The volcanoes Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson are nicely visible.


Image, 2005, The Columbian Valley, with Portland International Airport, click to enlarge
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The "Columbian Valley". Columbia River, Portland International Airport, and Vancouver Washington, as seen from Rocky Butte. Image taken June 15, 2005.
Image, 2005, Portland International Airport from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Portland International Airport as seen from Rocky Butte. The Columbia River and Vancouver, Washington, are in the background. Image taken June 15, 2005.
Image, 2005, View north from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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View north to Washington State, from Rocky Butte, Oregon. Mount St. Helens, the Columbia River, Government Island, and the Interstate 205 Bridge are all in this view looking north from Rocky Butte. Image taken June 15, 2005.
Image, 2005, Prune Hill, a Boring Lava Cone, as seen from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Prune Hill, Washington, a Boring Lava Cone, as seen from Rocky Butte, Oregon Image taken June 15, 2005.
Image, 2005, Columbia River looking upstream from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Columbia River looking upstream as seen from Rocky Butte. View of the Columbia River, with Government Island (left) and McGuire Island (right). Image taken June 15, 2005.


Mount St. Helens from Rocky Butte ...

Mount St. Helens, Washington can be seen to the north from Rocky Butte. In September 2004, the volcano once again came to life.

Image, 2004, Rocky Butte and ashy Mount St. Helens, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, with an ashy Mount St. Helens. Mount St. Helens, in eruption, with ash drifting towards Rocky Butte. Image taken October 14, 2004.
Image, 2005, Mount St. Helens from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Mount St. Helens, Washington, as seen from Rocky Butte, Oregon. The Columbia River and the Interstate 205 Bridge are in the foreground. Image taken June 15, 2005.
Image, 2005, Mount St. Helens from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Mount St. Helens, Washington, as seen from Rocky Butte, Oregon. The Columbia River and the Interstate 205 Bridge are in the foreground. The Portland International Airport is off to the left. Image taken June 15, 2005.


Mount Hood from Rocky Butte ...

Mount Hood, Oregon can be seen to the east from Rocky Butte.

Image, 2004, Rocky Butte and foggy Mount Hood, click to enlarge
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Rocky Butte, Oregon, with a foggy (and into the sun) Mount Hood. Image taken October 14, 2004.
Image, 2005, Mount Hood from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Mount Hood as seen from Rocky Butte, Oregon. Image taken June 15, 2005.


Mount Jefferson from Rocky Butte ...
Mount Jefferson, Oregon can be seen to the southeast from Rocky Butte.

Image, 2005, Mount Jefferson from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Mount Jefferson as seen from Rocky Butte, Oregon. Image taken June 15, 2005.


Portland, Oregon, from Rocky Butte ...
The skyline of Portland, Oregon can be seen to the west from Rocky Butte.

Image, 2004, Portland, Oregon, from Rocky Butte, click to enlarge
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Early morning, Portland, Oregon, from Rocky Butte. Image taken October 14, 2004.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, April 2, 1806 ...
This morning we came to a resolution to remain at our present encampment [Cottonwood Beach, Washougal, Washington] or Some where in this neighbourhood untill we had obtained as much dried meat as would be necessary for our voyage as far as the Chopunnish. ...     about this time Several Canoes of the nativs arived at our Camp [Cottonwood Beach] among others two from below with Eight men of the Shah-ha-la Nation those men informed us that they reside on the opposit Side of the Columbia near Some pine trees which they pointed to in the bottom South of the Dimond Island [Government Island], they Singled out two young men whome they informed us lited at the Falls of a large river [Willamette Falls] which discharges itself into the Columbia on it's South Side Some Miles below us. we readily provailed on them to give us a Sketch of this river [Willamette River] which they drew on a Mat with a coal, it appeared that this river which they Call Mult-no'-mah discharged itself behind the Island we call the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], and as we had left this Island to the South both in decending & assending the river we had never Seen it. they informed us that it was a large river and runs a Considerable distance to the South between the Mountains. I deturmined to take a Small party and return to this river and examine its Size and Collect as much information of the nativs on it or near its enterance into the Columbia of its extent, the Country which it waters and the nativs who inhabit its banks &c. I took with me Six Men. Thompson J. Potts, Peter Crusat, P. Wiser, T. P. Howard, Jos. Whitehouse & my man York in a large Canoe, with an Indian whome I hired for a Sun glass to accompany me as a pilot. at half past 11 A. M. I Set out ...     at 8 miles passed a village on the South side [Chinook Landing and Blue Lake area] at this place my Pilot informed me he resided and that the name of his tribe is Ne-cha-co-lee, this village is back or to the South of Dimond island [Government Island], and as we passed on the North Side of the island both decending & assending did not See or know of this Village. I proceeded on without landing at this village. at 3 P. M. I landed at a large double house of the Ne-er-cho-ki-oo tribe of the Shah-ha-la Nation. at this place we had Seen 24 aditional Straw Huts as we passed down last fall [November 4, 1805, in the vicinity of the Portland International Airport] and whome as I have before mentioned reside at the Great rapids of the Columbia [Celilo Falls].     on the bank at different places I observed Small Canoes which the women make use of to gather Wappato & roots in the Slashes. those Canoes are from 10 to 14 feet long and from 18 to 23 inches wide in the widest part tapering from the center to both ends in this form and about 9 inches deep and So light that a woman may with one hand haul them with ease, and they are Sufficient to Carry a woman on Some loading. I think 100 of those canoes were piled up and Scattered in different directions about in the Woods in the vecinity of this house, the pilot informed me that those Canoes were the property of the inhabitents of the Grand rapids who used them ocasionally to gather roots. ...

I left them [village near today's Portland International Airport] and proceeded on on the South Side [North Portland Harbor] of Image Canoe Island [Hayden Island] which I found to be two Islands hid from the opposit Side by one near the Center of the river. the lower point of the upper and the upper point of the lower cannot be Seen from the North Side of the Columbia on which we had passed both decending and ascending and had not observed the apperture between those islands. at the distance of 13 Miles below the last village [location of Portland International Airport] and at the place I had Supposed was the lower point of the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], I entered this river which the nativs had informed us of, Called Mult no mah River [Willamette River] so called by the nativs from a Nation who reside on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] a little below the enterance of this river. Multnomah [Willamette River] discharges itself in the Columbia on the S. E. and may be justly Said to be the Size of that noble river. Multnomah had fallen 18 inches from it's greatest annual height. three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth [Belle Vue Point and Kelley Point, on opposite sides of the mouth of the Willamette, use to be islands] which hides the river from view from the Columbia.     from the enterance of this river [Willamette River] , I can plainly See Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is high and Covered with snow S. E. Mt. Hood East [Mount Hood, Oregon], Mt St. Helians [Mount St. Helens, Washington] a high humped Mountain to the East of Mt St. Helians [Mount Adams, Washington, is east of Mount St. Helens]. I also Saw the Mt. Raneer [Mount Rainier, Washington] Nearly North. Soon after I arived at this river an old man passed down of the Clark a'mos Nation who are noumerous and reside on a branch of this river which receives it's waters from Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is emensely high and discharges itself into this river one day and a half up, this distance I State at 40 Miles. This nation inhabits 11 Villages their Dress and language is very Similar to the Quath-lah-poh-tle and other tribes on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island].



The Current of the Multnomar [Willamette River] is as jentle as that of the Columbia glides Smoothly with an eavin surface, and appears to be Sufficiently deep for the largest Ship. I attempted fathom it with a Cord of 5 fathom which was the only Cord I had, could not find bottom ? of the distance across. I proceeded up this river 10 miles from it's enterance into the Columbia to a large house on the N E. Side and Encamped near the house [downstream of Cathedral Park and the St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, near Portland's Terminal 4.], the flees being So noumerous in the house that we could not Sleep in it.



this is the house of the Cush-hooks Nation who reside at the falls of this river which the pilot informs me they make use of when they Come down to the Vally to gather Wappato. he also informs me that a number of other Smaller houses are Situated on two Bayous which make out on the S. E. Side a little below the house. this house appears to have been laterly abandoned by its inhabitants ...     The course and distance assending the Molt no mar R [Willamette River] from it's enterance into the Columbia at the lower point of the 3rd Image Canoe island.

[This area has changed during the past 200 years. Lewis and Clark called today's Hayden Island "Image Canoe Island". Their "3rd Image Canoe Island" however maybe in reference to the "three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth" (see journal entry above), two of the islands possibly were islands which are today's Belle Vue Point on Sauvie Island, and Pearcy Island which eventually became Kelley Point. Lewis and Clark's route map (Map#79 and Map#80, Moulton, Vol.1) shows a long "Image Canoe Island" with two small islands on the north side of "Image Canoe Island", and three small islands at the mouth of the "Multnomah R.". ]

S. 30 W. 2 Miles to the upper point of a Small Island [???] in the Middle of Moltnomar river [Willamette River]. thence

S. 10 W. 3 miles to a Sluce 80 yards wide [Multnomah Channel] which devides Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] from the Main Stard. Side Shore passing a Willow point on the Lard. Side [???].

S. 60 E. 3 miles to a large Indian house on the Lard Side below Some high pine land.

[Lewis and Clark's map plotted against an 1888 map of the area shows this location to be closer to 2 miles from the Multnomah Channel, just upstream from Portland's Terminal 4, and across from the community of Linnton.]

high bold Shore on the Starboard Side [Tualatin Mountains]. thence

S. 30 E 2 miles to a bend under the high lands on the Stard Side [St. Johns Bridge area located at the base of the Tualatin Mountains]

miles 10 passing a Larborad point [???].

thence the river bends to the East of S East as far as I could See [the stretch through Portland, Oregon]. at this place I think the wedth of the river may be Stated at 500 yards and Sufficiently deep for a Man of War or Ship of any burthern.





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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources: Allen, 1975, Volcanoes of the Portland Area, Oregon: State of Oregon, Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, The ORE-BIN, v.37, no.9, September 1975; Alt, D., 2001, Glacial Lake Missoula and its Humongous Floods, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula; "Gesswhoto.com" website, 2005, "A Place Called Oregon"; McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland; National Register of Historic Places website, 2005; Portland Parks and Recreation website, 2005; "Rootsweb.com" website, 2005, "Oregon, End of the Trail, by Workers of the writers' Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Oregon"; Swanson, et.al., 1989, IGC Field Trip T106: Cenozoic Volcanism in the Cascade Range and Columbia Plateau, Southern Washington and Northernmost Oregon: American Geophysical Union Field Trip Guidebook T106.

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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September 2008